Another idol on my road to becoming a tough leathery sexually-charged mature Spanish woman.
This place is so crammed I can barely find a place to stand. I post up wedged in-between an old lady in a floor length fur coat and fuchsia lipstick, bocadillo of ham in one overly-ringed, fleshless hand; and a group of college-aged Spanish suburbanites shouting wordlessly to the tune of “Seven Nation Army” and spilling their dobles on the napkin-littered floor. Pablo dropped his sandwich and is mocked. It’s not quite 4 pm. The walls are lined with colorfully-wrapped ham legs. I suspect at least the uppermost level must be papier-mache (how could this much ham exist in the world?) and the barmen are grizzled and in clean crisp uniforms of starched collars and red and blue vests. Two out of four have a gold medallion of some version of the La Virgen nestled in wiry chest hair.
The food is cheap and decent. The drink is cheaper and less decent. I partake of both.
The bar is a ring Four people-deep and everyone stands and I sip my beer looking across at punks and abuelas in furs and tourists and middle-aged men in gold and polyester. There are no cliques here; leisure is communal. An intense amount of eye contact is acceptable in Spain. At least four sets of eyes are fixed on me. I’m suddenly conscious of how high the waist of my pants is. I’m still too soft for this.
The sandwich is good and the meat is ribboned with fat. Between bites I’m sending lewd messages to a guy a thousand miles away. Electronic love has lost all its taboo in a world where I have two apps on my phone that can get me bottom-shelf sex with a flick of the wrist. These are the kind of messages that shouldn’t see the cold light of day and I’m not entirely sure how the cloud works but he’s got a way about him and you can tell by my dark lipstick that I’m a hedonist. Send.
I had a bad breakup a year ago and broke up with the city of San Francisco too. Came to Spain on an easy visa for a change of scenery and for Hemingway. The scenes changed but I have no stomach for bullfighting.
It’s the 21st century and hence socially acceptable to online date, I tell myself. Now my phone buzzes whenever another single person crosses my path within a certain distance. A moving panopticon of the lonely that radiates out from me 500 feet in all directions (really it uses meters but I still haven’t internalized what that signifies in the practical world). At some point in London whilst hiding from the rain in a vintage shop I couldn’t afford I crossed one such and for months we’ve built a rapport based on blind optimism and the emotional convenience of distance. We’ve never met, but people are willing to cast their nets wide in the digital age of disposable profiles. On the back of three Moscow Mules I recently booked a ticket to see him because one must take chances or else what’s the fucking point. Because these are the times we’re living in.
I have nothing to anchor myself to reality except my faith in proactive choices.
Don’t tell my mom, she’d worry.
And for reasons like this I’m always broke; I have grand visions of fantastic life and vibrant joy and whiskey sex and parties and black poetry. I’ve lived it in small spurts always peppered between long blocks of confused idolatry of inconsistent men and jobs of small responsibility and even smaller consequence (and even smaller paycheck). I get restless: I’ve changed apartments eleven times in ten years. I’ve done all the drugs, the sex and the rock and roll and all I have to show for it is anxiety, feelings, and damaged hearing. I’m too sensitive for one-night stands but I like the concept. I’m too old for drugs; they work too well now. I don’t own a hairbrush; I still fuck up my spin cycle; I’ve had my heart broken twice; none of it has sounded good on paper.
I’m quite a catch.
In my revery an abuela has managed to displace me in my sanctuary of counter space with two sharp elbows akimbo and the unapologetic aloofness of someone who lived through Franco and accordingly merits such compensation. I am powerless in the face of such humanity.
I reach into my pocket knowing I can pay for this meal entirely in coins because I’m a goddamned adult. I count them out on the two square inches of dry bar top remaining to me whilst periodically checking my phone because it stopped doing notifications months ago (strains and pressures from its international lifestyle), which I consider a personal affront. My friend Phil mutters something about all the dick and dinner I could be missing. He’s not wrong, but I’m a boheme and consider my privation to be of a deeper, more profoundly poetic variety.
My dopamine levels are depleted from the weekend so I’m feeling morose in a very Victorian way. The carbonation of the beer is helping with that.
Damn people and their jobs and their private lives and their self-control.
A sudden twinge in my left knee reminds me that I should get it checked out before I go. It’s been various states of swollen for a while now, likely something to do with the knee-level metal posts lining every sidewalk in the city. The bane of the walking texter. But then I remember it’s Sunday and am relieved that there’s no one to call; pronounced fear of second language phone calls.
Idly contemplating how many shades of black to pack.
The only thing keeping me here is a great quality of life and friends in low places. Why would I ever leave. A rolling stone gathers no moss, but if moss is a sense of material accomplishment and progress in meaningful work, then I guess I gotta reevaluate a few things. Take stock of assets and liabilities. I could always focus on the benediction of my fervent joie de vivre. That particular joy of living is worth its weight in good wine and prophylactics. When I’m lucky.
And I’m often lucky.
(Only time will tell).
Christ the reception in here is poor, I can’t be sure if my wanton dispatches are even getting through. I gotta get the hell out of this place and onto higher ground (physically and metaphorically). I hope this barkeep doesn’t mind a fistful of damp coppers, because that’s what I’m leaving him. And a glass smeared with my darkest lipstick.
There’s always chanting coming from somewhere. We have a new king, and flags of the Spanish Republic in Exile add dark marks of color up and down the duny streets that run past the four large open windows; Ni rey, Ni reina. The same breeze that ripples their dissenting reds yellows and purples slides along the sticky table, fluttering last night’s rolling papers across the un-mopped floor, where they stick to something horrible that I stepped in this morning. All the glasses are full of cigarette butts and warm gin. We’ve had about eight going away soirees and if I have to break up any more coke parties in the bathroom to brush my teeth, I’m going to renounce my residency.
I haven’t written for days because I’m not a writer, and my thoughts are manic and punctuated by drunken outbursts and ill-begotten lusty messages (mistakes in Spanish grammar take the bite out of both). The apartment has smelled of heat and cigarettes for days, and suitcases in various states of packing represent the disparate plans and departure dates of the three of us who live here: San Francisco, Buenos Aires, and Johannesburg.
At this point my eyes are dull and I need a drink. From one of the small balconies I can see into the closest old-man bar (the only variety worth a damn). Someone’s at the gambling machine and the barman is waltzing alone in the street spilling a glass of the light vermouth for which this place is famous. The sun isn’t going down but my worthless phone is stuck on Icelandic time, and doing the math I determine it is indeed not too early to indulge. It’s been a day that calls for drinking, for godsake.
I leave the spite email I’d been impassively drafting, a response to one I’d gotten hours before bearing ill news about the disintegrating San Francisco life I’d abandoned to its fate nine months ago. Both my best friends are banging my ex and fighting about it STOP Everyone is depressed STOP Bad sex and Jameson are the new religion STOP. I’ll be back there in three weeks and all I can think about are cheesesteaks, large coffees, and punching my ex in the dick. I managed to relate this desire to my roommate in French and feel that fact alone moves me up to a level C1.
I grab a general amount of currency and head downstairs.
The legions of day-drinkers draped across public spaces and plazas add an urgency to these last few days. I stop to check my broken phone at the corner where I traditionally catch some rogue wifi. At this hour post-siesta there’s no hope in rousing the other immigrants from their youtube hangovers, and frankly this drink needed to be drunk alone. Furthermore there’s no response to the flurry of weirdly-phrased Spanish come-ons I fired off to a couple of second-stringers late last night, because I have a misplaced need for affection at that hour. That’s certainly for the best, though that boldness will haunt me in the cold light of day when I cross them at the grocery store whilst buying spreadable cheese and diet coke.
I stand at the bar surrounded by old men shouting “venga coño” at various members of the Spanish National soccer team. This is where I pick up most of my functional vocabulary. Once the bartender comes in from dancing, shirt glistening and thirst unquenched, I order a tall glass of the same vermouth that his mirth advertized, and reflect on the decisions I’ve made.
I have an aversion to success and am debilitatingly self-reflective, it’s true. That needs to be taken into account. But goddamnit, I don’t understand the world anymore. Spain has certainly put that into perspective. Everything around me has disintegrated into mayhem, and that is oddly freeing.
Spain just scored a goal and someone’s abuelo is buying the bar a round of tiny beers.
I’ve learned to accept that seeking catharsis in mutual understanding is a fool’s errand and not the point. We’re emotionally developed enough to render rational thought not only inconvenient but impractical; contradiction is no impediment.
The barman gives me mushrooms, God’s most fucking inglorious food.
Everyone can do what they want, just be direct, that is the only salvation. And that frees everyone from the burden of frustration.
And then I would have more time to drink vermouth.
I’ll be gone for nearly three months and maybe nothing will change here just as, disappointingly, nothing has changed back home. People will still struggle, and drink in the streets and yell and scream all night because of it. And I’ll make bad decisions and I’ll forgive unforgivable things, but all I want is a clear conscience.
Becky and I hiding from the wind in the deceptively cold South.
The garbage strike is finally over, having been resolved this weekend just in time for the first rains of autumn, which would have otherwise turned the city’s streets into a torpid river of trash-confetti, multicolored but uniform in smell (piss). Even though I supported the strike it was a relief to come back from Granada to cleaner(er) streets and only the smell of wet pavement and dry leaves (and less piss).
But that doesn’t mean I was eager to leave Andalucía. Granada was the nexus of everything I had been looking for in this country; the weekend was spent in a kind of decadent she-revelry that has left me feeling somehow sad and pensive because it reminded me of how vibrant and romantic I thought my life would be when I was in the full throws of distracted puberty (listening to silverchair cultivates a romantic soul).
But of course traveling as a lifestyle isn’t always like that (I’m at a loss for how to phrase that without sounding like someone I wouldn’t want to hang out with); it is often lonely and frustrating to find that you’re chasing something intangible across the years and borders and never feel any closer to it, not least of all because you have no idea what it even is, the momentum it creates is the only certain thing, like knowing a black hole exists because of the light of everything that is drawn into it (poetry).
I’ve kept myself moving both to escape and to seek something I can’t necessarily define, but I can feel it as an instinct more strongly than I’ve ever felt the need to do all the other things that are collectively considered valuable to humanity (career, children, God, $$$). And that hasn’t been without sacrifice, as my semi-permanent status as a swinging bachelorette at/below the poverty line shall attest to .
And maybe that’s why Granada made me so sad (again in a poetic 15-with-feelings sort of way, which is the purest emotional state that humans can reach). Granada is everything I’ve ever felt I wanted. The flamenco dance, the guitar and wailing voices touched me in a way that is embarrassing to admit in the cold light of day. The food is so good to almost be lewd and the people were warm and inviting even though my listening comprehension of the southern accent was as flaccid as if it were Finnish. The views were pastoral, our house was a gypsy cave in the hillside, and the wine practically paid me to drink it. It reminded me of what I’ve always hoped to find, and I know that’s a big burden to put on a place I saw for all of three days, but travel is all about over-romanticizing the far away and the different. And I’ve never been one to skimp on romantic musings (I cry like once a month because I feel feelings so strongly). And if you can do all that in the company of a barrel-chested well-follicled flamenco diva of a certain age, then you are quite literally living the dream.